All is quiet with Torey Krug and the Boston Bruins. That’s probably exactly the way the Boston front office has mapped it out.
Due to the interesting circumstances behind their first pro contracts, neither Krug nor Reilly Smith have full restricted free-agent rights; instead, they're entry-level restricted free agents. Both Krug and Smith got that designation after burning the first year of their entry-level deals coming out of the NCAA, and currently have just two years of service time in pro hockey.
They can’t sign any offer sheets this summer, can’t move to any other teams, don’t have any arbitration rights and are fully under the power of a salary cap-strapped Bruins team while waiting for new bridge-type contracts.
So a player like Krug doesn’t have much negotiating leverage despite coming off a whiz-bang 40-point rookie season, in which he played a major role in revitalizing the B’s power play, and finished fourth in the Calder Trophy voting.
It was believed initially that both Krug and Smith could be looking at second contracts in the Ondrej Palat/Tyler Johnson range of 3 years/$10 million. Now that won’t be happening this summer, given their service-time status.
It’s much more likely that Krug and Smith will be steered into signing one- or two-year deals in the $1 million-2 million AAV (average annual value) range that are friendly to the organization. That’s clearly a positive development for Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins, but isn’t so great for exciting young players in Krug and Smith after breakout NHL campaigns in 2013-14.
They may just have to wait for the Bruins to show them the money.
One piece of good news for Krug: The contract signed by Jake Gardiner and the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this week. The 24-year-old Leafs defenseman signed a five-year, $20.25 million contract as a restricted free agent for a cap hit of $4.05 million, and is a reasonable comparable player for Krug.
Gardiner had 5 goals and 14 points in the final 21 games for the Leafs last season, has the same kind of offensive talent as Krug, and is now the second-highest paid Toronto D-man behind only Dion Phaneuf. The 6-foot-2, 184-pounder had 10 goals and 31 points in 80 games for the Leafs last season in his best NHL campaign. Those are good numbers for a young D-man, to be sure, but Krug topped Gardiner’s offensive numbers across the board in his rookie season for Boston.
The one area of difference between Gardiner and Krug: Time on ice. Gardiner is playing a top-four role, and has never averaged less than 20:29 of ice time in the parts of three NHL seasons. The 23-year-old Krug averaged only 17:31 of ice time as a bottom pairing defenseman in his rookie season, and will need to crack Boston’s top four if he really aims to cash in on a Gardiner-level contract.
Krug will get that chance next season to prove he’s more than a 5-6 defenseman and prodigious power-play specialist, and that’s something he committed to as one of his most pressing offseason goals.
“I’m really proud of everything I accomplished as a rookie, but you never stop improving and getting better. There’s always room to improve,” said Krug. “I want to gain that trust where I’m a top four defenseman, and I’m playing 20 minutes a night in all situations. That will be something I’ll be trying to prove to myself, and to the Bruins.”
While there may be some uneasiness among Bruins fans that Krug and Smith are still sitting in RFA as key unsigned players, the urgency isn’t really there until the calendar pushes closer to training camp.
Smith and Krug may not get the big payday they’re looking for this summer, but another season like last year ensures it will happen in the near future.